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Swell Sonata Swims Against the Tide

  For $40,000 could you get a better looking car than the Hyundai Sonata? Elegant, sleek, as trim as an athlete, there is nothing amiss on this mid-sized sedan.

  Hyundai has come a long way from the miserable looking cars they used to produce. They were as lumpy and dull as root vegetables.

  The new Sonata should win new fans by looks alone but there are other charms.

  I tested the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. Next to the good looks the best thing was the stingy fuel consumption. Without trying, I averaged close to 5.0  L/100 km in combined city and highway driving.  

  If you are thinking of going electric for your next car, but are queasy with range anxiety, then the Sonata hybrid is a good gateway car before plunging into EV world.

   It’s not unusual to pay thousands more for a hybrid, than the same model with gas engine only. The Sonata Hybrid is just over $1,000 more than the regular Sonata in the Ultimate version which is the top trim level. That’s impressive. An innovative solar roof, another smart feature, charges the battery, adding another 1200 kilometres of electric driving time over a year, according to Hyundai.

  As is the norm with Hyundai, it is fitted with dozens of features as standard, not optional. There’s lots of tech, lots of safety interventions, crowd pleasers such as heated steering wheel, a good sound system and fine looking displays.

   There are many reasons to love this car, and a few reasons not too.

  If you happen to like driving and love a sharp feeling, fun car to drive, then the Sonata Hybrid will leave you cold. It’s robotic and forgettable.

The steering is numb, and the transmission behaves like a CVT (continuously variable transmission) even though it is a 6-speed automatic. What’s missing is the feeling of crisp shifts executed at the appropriate time.

  My suspicion though is that many people won’t notice the lobotomized drive experience.  And given the state of our roads, it is getting less pleasurable to drive any vehicle these days, so you might as well drive one that isn’t burning through fuel, and slamming over potholes.

  The Sonata hybrid produces 192 horsepower with the gas engine and electric motor working together. It’s a serviceable amount of power, but it does not have the sort of verve I like when passing on the highway.

   To alter the performance, one can choose between Custom, Sport, Eco and Smart Mode.  I landed on Eco, a good compromise, and left it there.

  In the city, when driving at low speeds the Sonata switches to electric power. Because it is so quiet, there is an option to switch on artificial “engine noise” to warn pedestrians of your whereabouts. When I picked up the car, it was set to the loudest decibel. It is an annoying, high pitched whine, people gave me the evil eye at every stop sign. I found the setting to dial it back to the least obnoxious sound. Reading the manual is a must with this car to pick up fine details like this.

  Other quirky things include the Blind View Monitor. When approaching an intersection, a “live stream” video of the blind spot appears on the instrument panel in front of the driver. I’m not sure how useful this is, but it may help you see cyclists coming up from behind in the curb lane. In addition, when the turn signals are activated the same video stream appears, when changing lanes on the highway for instance. It is quite an experience watching live video of what’s beside and behind you, while also watching the road ahead. I needed longer than a week’s test drive to determine how useful this feature is.

Ambient sounds at your fingertips

  There are many alerts and warnings about potential hazards, maybe too many, but some can be switched off.  The car even chimes to alert you when the car ahead has moved forward. This seems to be squarely aimed at people who are so busy texting at intersections, they create a hazard.

  The interior of the Sonata is nicely finished, the seats comfortable without being mushy, and the ergonomics of reaching controls are fine for the  driver. 

  On the infotainment screen you can choose to have soothing ambient sounds such as rain, ocean waves, a fireplace or lively birds in the forest.  Weird, but the bird sounds were rather calming.

  So, the Sonata has a big check list of positives. But it struck me when I opened the trunk that this car will have a battle against the popularity of SUV’s. The trunk is big enough, but the opening is small. So, transporting tall things like wedding cakes and topiaries is off the list.

The Sonata trunk is deep, but the opening is shallow

  People love their SUV’s, they may not need them, but they love them. A sedan, even as nice as the Sonata will be swimming against the tide.

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